Hymie and Hilda Cohen z"l

Hilda and Hymie Cohen


HARARE TALL, SLIM and gentlemanly Hymie Cohen – he and his late wife, Hilda (Lezard) from Oudtshoorn, were tango ballroom champions in their time – died last week at Bulawayos Savyon Lodge at the age of 96.

Cohen was a past president of the Harare Hebrew Congregation.

Hymie and Hilda, who for many years lived in Duthie Avenue in Harare – it was the city’s Jewish Quarter in the nineties. Their neigh-bours were Barney and Anita Price, Issie and Freda Bernstein, Aron and Hetty King and down the road, Al Nairn, a leading Sephardi and his wife, Babs Nairn, who at 91 is the community’s present matriarch.

For Zimbabwes sadly dwindling Jewish community – from its peak of 7 000 in the sixties to its present 270 souls – the death of Hymie, who was buried next to Hilda in Harares Warren Hills cemetery on Monday, would seem to be the end of an era.

The country has descended form its regional bread-basket heyday, with enormous potential, to the present failed state with an economy in rapid decline.

Hymie’s father, David, in 1897 came from what was then Palestine, with his wife. Jenny, and worked at the Penhalonga gold mine in the eastern region. Travelling to (then) Salisbury, the Rhodesian capital, took a week by ox-wagon. Jenny would journey to nearby Umtali (now Mutare) carried on a machila, a hammock suspended on the shoulders of two bearers who walked along paths. It was 26 kilometres and took may hours.

In 1921, the Cohens moved to Salisbury and Hymie had lessons from Rabbi Joseph Rosin, and his was one of the first barmitzvahs in the new shul which served the community from 1918 to 1973.

Hymie joined the ministry of posts and was there for 33 years, becoming superintendent of telegraphs. Hilda captained Wingate clubs ladies tennis team.

Bulawayos Rabbi Nathan Asmoucha conducted Mondays levoya and among the mourners was Hymie’s son, Dr Brian Cohen, a New York gynaecologist. He leaves another son, Alan,’ who lives in Israel.

December 2005